Cages

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chapter one

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First Impressions

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A/N: Ok, some background on how this story came about. One day the muse and I were wondering about all the Aya prostitute fics out there, and why he was the one picked to be a whore when Yohji… well, he just seems to be the much better choice, IMHO. Then add the wonderfully talented Marith and her fic ‘The Pass’ that pulls off the most realistic Aya prostitute fic I’ve come across, and some ideas were created. A lot were rejected, a few I’m still pondering, but this is the one the muse has latched onto and won’t let go. It’s sort of a combination of the two musings, and a challenge to myself to try and imitate Marith’s idea while coming up with something completely different.

It’s an AU (well, I did want it to be different!), and if you’re waiting for Schwarz to appear, I’m afraid it’s a waste of time (so, those of you wanting a YxA fic w/ no Schu interference, this is for you!!). I’m trying to portray the characters in a more realistic manner, so no crazy Weiß plot points (okay, only a few main ones that have shaped who the characters are), no people with paranormal talents, no Kritiker or Esset at all. Consider it an alternative to what might have happened to the boys if there hadn’t been a Weiß. I hope you enjoy.

I know that geisha do not usually sport common Japanese names, but that the names they work under have specific meanings, denoting various influences on them and so forth. However, I didn’t feel confident enough to make up one of these names, nor did I want to ‘borrow’ a name from another geisha. So I picked normal Japanese names for any geisha in this fic.

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Tons of thanks to Forsaken, who has put up w/ me going on and on about this fic for a couple months, and has encouraged me to write it. Thanks Tritorella for the beta and helping me to shape this into a much better fic than it was when I sent it to her, and thanks again to s2kitty for the beta!! You ladies are just wonderful.

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Yohji glanced up at the fifteen-story building that loomed before him. Loomed, perhaps, wasn’t the best word to describe it since the building was flanked by taller buildings. If anything, the Hanabatake Apartments looked out of place, almost from another time. It had a subtle character that told the observer that it housed more than just offices or normal tenants due to the unusual workmanship of its exterior. The fine stone, clean and ornately carved with flower patterns on random bricks, stood out in contrast to the plain granite and glass facades of the other buildings around it. Plants could clearly be seen on the almost all of the balconies facing the street.

Tossing his cigarette aside, Yohji grabbed a box from the passenger side of his Jaguar and decided that he hadn’t gotten enough sleep if he was imaging things about a fucking building. The last week had been pretty hectic since he’d taken up Rika on her offer, and he’d spent the time packing up his old place and letting his clients know about his soon-to-be-changed address.

But the move was well worth the aggravation. The Hanabatake Apartments weren’t cheap. Not by a long shot. The high price served a two-fold purpose - one was to discourage unwanted tenants, the other to lend the place a sense of prestige. However, the complex never had any trouble finding new investors, and the apartments were very hard to come by. To get one you had to have a lot of cash and contacts. Or, in Yohji’s case, know someone who had both. Dear Rika was a doll for giving him the apartment.

It was still a bit of a shock that he was to be the Hanabatake’s newest resident. Yohji had wanted to buy an apartment here ever since he’d heard about the place. It had been one of his wealthy female customers who had told him about it, and he’d fantasized about it since then, another status symbol to acquire, much like the car and his expensive wardrobe. Plus it would put him nearer many of his ladies, and make meeting with them much easier. They could always tell their husbands that they were spending the day shopping in the nearby district instead of being fucked by him.

Another benefit was that with his new address he could draw in better clients, and could afford to be a bit more selective, choosing the ones he wouldn’t mind servicing too much. Add to that the fact that the apartment was paid for, minus a monthly maintenance fee, this meant he now had more money to spend on himself. If he didn’t feel like working some nights, he wouldn’t have to now.

 

Crossing the busy street, Yohji entered the Hanabatake. Upon his entrance, an impeccably dressed guard immediately stepped in front of him and prevented him from getting more than two feet inside the building.

"This is a private residence."

"I know, and as of today I reside here." Yohji set the box on the floor by his feet and fished out his driver license. "Kudoh Yohji. I’ll be moving into apartment 13E."

The guard looked at his license and bowed deeply. "I’m sorry, sir, but could you please wait here? I need to verify your identity." The man hurried over to a desk where another guard was seated and made a quick phone call.

Sighing as he toed the cardboard box, Yohji wondered if his dream was going to be burst before he even made it to the apartment. Had Rika changed her mind? Maybe he should have taken up her offer to help him move in….

Less than three minutes later a middle-aged man with cropped grey hair and dressed in a black Armani suit approached Yohji. "Kudoh-san? I’m Shizuka. We spoke on the phone the other day."

"Yeah, Tuesday to be exact. Please don’t tell me that something happened to the apartment after I signed the lease the Yaido agency forwarded to me yesterday morning." He deliberately cited names and times, just in case the man thought he was an imposter or something. While Yohji understood the need for such diligent security - it had been another reason why he wanted to live here - it still galled him to be treated with such suspicion. What, hadn’t they known he was a filthy half-breed when they’d found out he was moving in? He’d even taken the time to wear a nice pair of khaki slacks and a red silk shirt so he didn’t appear too casual his first day here, even if he was busy moving.

Shizuka bowed to him. "I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir. We expected you to arrive today, but we’ve been a bit busy and lost track of the time. Once again I apologize. Let me show you to your apartment."

Yohji bent to pick up his box but Shizuka beat him to it. The guards bowed to him and wished him a happy stay at the Hanabatake, then went back to watching the door. Walking further into the lobby, Yohji noted the tasteful décor, a perfect blend of Japanese and Western styles. The elevator had gold carpet and pale gold walls, and was impeccable. His reflection stared back at him from the mirrored elevator doors as Shizuka pushed the button for the thirteenth floor. Yohji actually felt grateful that he’d taken a little time to dress properly today, especially after his ‘welcome’ from the staff.

"I apologize once more. The guards always require one of the staff to verify any new tenants, so someone from management tries to make sure to be on hand when a new person is moving in. Unfortunately, we were busy and didn’t think you would be arriving so early, and so you were questioned. However, now that I’ve confirmed your identity, that will never happen again."

Not as long as he held the lease and paid his bills, that was, Yohji thought bemusedly. He waved a hand at the anxious man.

"Don’t worry. I understand the need for the security, and they were very polite. As long as I don’t get questioned each time I come home I’ll be fine.

Shizuka smiled at him. "You won’t be questioned ever again. Though I must ask you to please leave a list of any people that you expect to visit you. When your guests arrive, the guards will call you and make sure they are welcome. But I’m sure the realtor has explained this to you."

"Yeah, she did."

"Good. Let me tell you about the building, then. There is a public bath in the basement, complete with sauna, and a pool. On the tenth floor there is a fully equipped gymnasium. The staff will assist with any dry cleaning needs that you have, and there are lines for drying clothes on the roof. There is also a greenhouse up there, but it’s privately owned, so we ask you not to enter it." Shizuka rattled off more information as the elevator slowly climbed upward and even after it stopped and opened. Yohji was aware of most of the things the man had told him since he had done a little investigating before agreeing to take over the lease, a long time dream or not. He probably knew the building as well as some of the staff if not better. Old habits died hard, after all.

They walked down a hallway with pale green carpet and cream-colored walls to a stained wood door that proclaimed it was 13E. His new home. Shizuka unlocked the door and then handed the keys to Yohji.

There was a small amount of tiled floor where he was to remove his shoes, but Yohji didn’t bother with that. This was his place now; he could walk around with whatever the hell he wanted on his feet. While Shizuka removed his loafers Yohji checked out the place.

The walls were pale gold and blue, the carpets a deep navy blue and very plush. The apartment was extremely spacious for this area of Tokyo, and part of the reason for the exorbitant cost. The realtor had described the rooms by tatami, even though this apartment had been updated with carpet, so Yohji hadn’t really grasped how big they would be. The living room was more than large enough for a couch and two chairs, his entertainment center and some end tables. There would be no problem entertaining people with this much space. Next to the spacious room was one half the size, most likely intended for an office or spare bedroom.

The main bedroom was also on the large side, and should hold his king sized bed and still have plenty of room for other furniture. Not that he had anything more than a nightstand, a dresser and a mirror. It was the bed was what really mattered. He made his living off the bed; as long as it fit in here Yohji could do without any more of a bedroom set. Especially if there was tons of closet space for his wardrobe, which was the case here.

The bathroom was off from the bedroom and sectioned into two parts. One room held a toilet, sink and counter, and the other a traditional style tub. Thankfully someone had converted the tub so he could have a shower in it if he wanted. Too bad they hadn’t fully renovated the room by taking out all the tiles and the drain in the middle of the floor, but he’d get used to the arrangement.

Pausing before the mirror, Yohji checked to see if his eyes were still bloodshot. They were still a touch red, which stood out against the deep green of his irises, but thankfully not too much. Then again, what did he expect after spending a late night drinking and dancing, and then waking up only a couple hours after going to bed to move? His hair was tousled and escaping from the band he’d tied it back in. Yohji pulled off the tie and let his hair brush against his shoulders. Straightening his red shirt, he left the room.

The kitchen was equipped with all the necessary appliances, including a small clothes washer. All in all, the place was more than worth the trouble of moving. Once again, Yohji couldn’t believe his luck in being given a place like this. He would have to do something really nice for Rika when he saw her later tonight. In a good mood, Yohji smiled at Shizuka, who was waiting patiently for him in the living room.

"Your phone is ready, and per your request I’ve lined up a member of housekeeping to tend to your apartment. Her name is Momoe-san. When will your furniture be arriving?"

"In about a half hour. I just came by to check the place out and drop off a few boxes before doing some shopping, so I won’t be here when it arrives. Will that be a problem?"

Shizuka bent his head slightly. "No, sir. The realtor picked a reputable moving firm, one we often do business with. One of the staff will assist them with the delivery, and ensure that the move goes smoothly." The middle-aged man reached into his black jacket and pulled out a small burnished steel cardholder. He opened it, pulled out a linen paper business card, and bowed low as he handed it to Yohji.

"If you have any questions or problems, Kudoh-san, please feel free contact me. I hope you enjoy your experience here at the Hanabatake. Good day." Yohji grasped the card in both hands and pretended to read it as the concierge quickly left the apartment.

Snorting a little at the man’s attitude, Yohji nonetheless tucked the card inside his cardholder. He could probably count on Shizuka’s eager assistance because of the incident a short while ago, so the card could come in handy one day. But still, he wanted to laugh at the older man. The Hanabatake was little more than a high-class whorehouse, after all, and no amount of fancy airs was going to change that.

Picking up the box that Shizuka had set on the kitchen counter, Yohji walked back into his bedroom and opened the door to the smaller of the two closets. He stuck the box on the highest shelf and pushed it all the way back to the wall, then turned around and made his way out of his new apartment. He needed to get a few things for the new place, a few odds and ends and some food, but most importantly, some alcohol. Yohji had been pleased to note that there was a liquor store just down the block when he’d driven to the apartment building.

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Aya nodded his head to the security guards as he entered the building, and again at Shizuka, who was talking to a man dressed in overalls that bore the same logo as the moving truck parked outside. Glad that the concierge was occupied and wouldn’t try to come over to chat or carry his bags for him, Aya quickly walked over to the elevators. He was happy to be the only one in it the entire ride up to his floor, but then again, that was to be expected. It wasn’t much past ten in the morning, and the Hanabatake’s residents tended to spend mornings in bed, sleeping off the excesses of the night before.

Quietly making his way to his room, Aya opened the door and entered his apartment. He was pleased to note that among his mail in the box on his door was an envelope of thick cream-coloured paper scented with hyacinths. His joy at that sight was tempered by the absence of any mail from America, and he sternly reminded himself that he’d gotten a note from his sister right before he’d left, so that was to be expected.

Tossing aside the other envelopes onto the small cherry wood table by the door as he toed off his shoes, Aya opened the scented note. His eyes scanned over the fine calligraphy as his lips curved into a slight smile as he read the almost formal invitation. Aya set the note down by the rest of the mail and made his way across his tatami floors, into his bedroom.

Aya set down his bags on the low bench at the base of his bed and set about unpacking. The shopping bags and their contents could wait for a bit. The three kimonos and their accoutrements that he’d taken with him to Kyoto were left in their tissue paper wrapping and placed in one of his cedar-lined closets. There was nothing that needed to be washed, and in a matter of moments he had put his overnight kit in its drawer in the bathroom and was shedding the dark blue kimono and lighter blue hakama that he had been wearing. He folded the expensive clothing and set them on the counter, and then entered the room with the tub.

Taking the time to braid his long hair, Aya then pinned it to the top of his head so it would be out of the way as he bathed. Quickly washing himself off, he forsook a soak in his tub until later that day. Besides, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t bathed before leaving for home early that morning, but he did have his rituals. One of them was always washing himself when either his lover left him or he returned from spending time with the man.

Dressed in a white yukata decorated with pale green bamboo shoots, Aya took care of the expensive kimono he’d been wearing and then chose something more suitable for the day. While the dark grey kimono, decorated with tiny Chinese lions of gold and crimson, was more extravagant than most people owned, it was one of Aya’s less formal ones. The type that, unless he was working in his greenhouse where he would wear a yukata, he normally wore around his apartment. Grey hakama completed the outfit.

Once he was ready he picked up one of the shopping bags that he’d brought back with him and left his apartment. Aya walked with his head high and his eyes focused in front of him, past the men moving furniture into the apartment next to his. He idly noted that the furniture was Western in style, and when he heard the hushed voices of the movers he forced himself to steadily walk down the hall, appearing not to notice them and their comments about his looks and probable occupation.

Reaching the other end of the hall, Aya knocked twice, and soon enough a small woman with grey streaked hair opened the door and clapped her hands, exclaiming happily at the sight of him.

"Ah, Aya-san! You’re back already! Ayumi-chan will be pleased to see you." The woman bowed as he stepped into the apartment and removed his slippers, replacing them with the set he left here at the apartment.

"Where is she, Kohmi-san?"

"In the tea room. She swore that you would show up before lunch, and has been waiting for you. But you shouldn’t have hurried back from Kyoto, Aya-san. The bullet train must have been terribly crowded this early in the morning."

Nodding his head as Kohmi, dressed in a kimono much too young and colorful for a mature woman in her fifties, prattled on, Aya walked towards the tearoom. Sliding back the paneled door, he bowed at the elderly woman waiting inside for him.

Ayumi was dressed in a lovely kimono, dull gold decorated with mandarin oranges and green leaves, accentuated with dark gold obi. Her pure white hair was pulled up high on her head and held in place by several lacquered hairpins with tiny jewels dangling from their ends. Her lovely face, which denied the reality of her eighty years of life, was composed and serene. Aya knew that she was dressed for seeing him and shook his head slightly. He should have dressed in something more formal, even if he was just having tea with a dear friend.

"Aya, you look well. How was Kyoto?"

Kneeling down before the low table, Aya leaned over and kissed Ayumi on the cheek. She smiled at the gesture and immediately started to pour hot water into the teapot before her.

"It was fine. Kikyou and I spent most of yesterday shopping, so I wasn’t as bored as last time."

Ayumi laughed at that bit of news, her voice light and cheerful and that of a young girl. She set down the pot of hot water and shook her finger in Aya’s face. "Now, you know it’s not nice to lie to me like that. I know you would have much rather spent the day reading than out buying silly things."

She knew him too well, but did not understand how stressful it was to be in his lover’s family estate, unwilling to leave his room in case he did something the man’s relatives would disapprove of. Which, with some of them, was simply being there.

"Ayumi, I swear that this time I did have more fun. Kikyou saw to it, and it wasn’t just silly things we bought." Aya lifted the bag and set it in front of his friend.

Arching an elegant eyebrow, Ayumi looked at Aya for a second before opening the presents. The first box was revealed to be fine green tea powder that he knew she could use in her tea ceremonies, and was her favorite blend. The next present was a rather plain cup, rough and a coppery brown on the outside, highlighted with reddish fire marks, and a deep red on the smooth inside.

"Aya, you know you shouldn’t have given me such a fine present. But thank you, nonetheless." She leaned over and kissed his cheek, the gesture one she reserved only for her closest friends. "I will have to hold a tea ceremony in a few days to properly appreciate your gifts. Will you be free, do you think?"

Aya nodded his head. "I should be. Hirofumi will be busy with work for the next week, which is why we left Kyoto so early today." He tried not to reveal his excitement over the fact that he would have several days of peace and quiet, free of the man’s visits. "I asked him about attending the cherry blossom party with you, and he gave me his permission."

Ayumi clapped her hands as a smile spread across his face. "Good! My new kimono will be ready in time for the celebration, and a dashing pair we will make!" Her golden eyes sparkling, she leaned forward and grasped the red braid that fell down Aya’s chest. "It is a lovely silver grey, decorated with camellia’s the exact same shade as your hair, I insisted upon it. What a matched set we will be, and just think of the rumors we’ll start." Ayumi’s eyes suddenly became sly. "Though maybe we should be careful, or people will think that I’ve stolen you from your lover."

It was times like this that Aya understood how the woman used to be one of Tokyo’s most sought after geishas. Ayumi could charm even a smile out of him, over a matter that he usually didn’t find amusing in the slightest. But Hirofumi knew that he cared for Ayumi as if she was his own blood and only in that regard, or he would never allow Aya to associate with her. She was old enough to be his grandmother, but somehow, one always forgot Ayumi’s real age when one was in her presence, her attitude was so carefree and sweet.

"They know I could never hope to attain such a prize as you, Ayumi, and that I merely follow you around like a puppy, content to be near you." The foolish words fell easily from his tongue, and for a moment Aya remembered when he’d say such things to his sister, just to make her smile. They had the same effect on the older woman.

Ayumi poured their tea as she clicked her tongue. "Ah, Aya, such sweet words from a solemn young man. For a moment you tempt me to truly try my wiles on you, just to make you say such things more often." She set the pot down and waited for Aya to pick up his cup. "You wouldn’t stand a chance, you know."

"No, I wouldn’t." Aya’s lips curved yet again; he’d already smiled more in the past few minutes with Ayumi than he had in the past three days. Not even Kikyou had been able to surprise one from him, and usually his friend was very amusing. But Aya was home now, and was relaxing for the first time since he’d left for Kyoto.

"Such a wise man you are to recognize that." Ayumi slanted him a look from her light colored eyes as she sipped her tea. Feeling content, Aya sipped his as well, enjoying the hot beverage. They were silent for several minutes.

Setting down her cup, Ayumi pushed a tray of treats towards Aya, her gnarled hand shaking slightly. She then poured them more tea, and sat back on her pillow, her arthritic hands tucked into her kimono sleeves.

"So, you have a new neighbor, you know."

"Yes, I saw them moving the furniture in when I came here." Aya nibbled on a piece of yôkan. He waited patiently for Ayumi to tell him the latest gossip of the apartment building. As its most long-standing inhabitant, she was privy to an amazing amount of information on all the residents.

Bowing her head, Ayumi seemed to be contemplating the curls of steam that rose from her tea. "You will be happy to know that it will not be another young girl," she said quietly, as if trying to be careful not to raise any painful memories for Aya. Regardless of her soft tone, he had a quick flash of Sakura’s crying face, and he shook his head to rid it of the vision.

"I didn’t expect the apartment to be occupied so soon after Kimura’s death. It’s been little over a month."

"Yes, I was slightly shocked when Shizuka told me the news. It seems instead of leaving the place to one of his sons, the property fell into his wife’s hands." Ayumi smiled for a moment, and reached down to pick up her cup of tea and cradle it in her hands. "Perhaps she was meant to sell it, or keep it until her sons were old enough to have mistresses of their own, but instead she gave it away."

Aya sipped his cooling tea and stroked a finger along the ceramic vessel, admiring the pattern of maple leaves that had been etched on the outside. "She gave it away?" Apartments in the Hanabatake could command quite the price on the real estate market, even in the current economic slump. The suites were spacious, well tended, and of course one was paying for more than a place to live. There was the high prestige, as infamous as it was, associated with the Hanabatake, and one had to pay well for it.

Ayumi nodded her head. "Yes, I was shocked myself when I heard that. It seems that while her husband… dallied with young girls…," she frowned slightly in distaste, "…she herself had a lover. Since her children are now in college, she is moving to Hawaii to join some family members there. One assumes that she wanted rid of the apartment before she left, and considered it a fitting gift for her lover." She smiled wickedly for a few seconds. "He must be very good, to rate such an extravagant parting present."

Relieved to hear that his next-door neighbor would be a man, Aya grunted as he set his empty teacup on the table. "Or else she enjoyed the thought of giving away the apartment her husband has owned for the past two decades, housing many young women in it over the years for him to carry on affairs with, to her own lover."

"T’ch, Aya. You are too young to be so jaded." For a moment Ayumi’s eyes became filled with sadness, and Aya regretted his comment. While he was probably correct, Ayumi preferred to leave the bitterness associated with their lives unspoken. That attitude had helped her survive countless years as a geisha, and the death of her long-time sponsor and lover, and subsequent isolation.

Trying to make up for his slip, Aya bent his head, his long bangs falling onto his face. "I apologize, Ayumi. It was… not the best few days, I’m afraid. I’m still out of sorts from the trip." From dealing with his lover’s family, and being reminded yet again what exactly his position in life now was: a dirty secret that respectable people didn’t wish to associate with.

Ayumi patted his hand. "I fear you won’t be yourself, Aya, until you spend a few hours with your plants. You’ll be happy to know that I made sure they were properly tended to while you were gone."

Aya lifted his head and smiled at the woman, and was surprised when Ayumi reached under the table for a large blue gift bag. She placed it on the table, and from the way her hands shook, Aya knew that it had to be heavy.

"You are not the only one who has a gift to give. I thought to wait and surprise you with it when you left, but the moment is better now."

Surprised by the gesture since he knew that Ayumi didn’t have much of an allowance for gifts, he carefully picked up the bag and set it down closer to him. It was heavy, and something rustled inside the paper bag. Carefully reaching into it, Aya pulled out a single violet orchid resting in a simple, iridescent black vase. He wondered at the sight of how the hues of the flower matched the shimmering color of the porcelain, and the few elegantly curling leaves Ayumi had left attached to its stem. It was a very simple, very elegant ikebana arrangement, and reminded Aya that he was still Ayumi’s pupil, even after all these years.

"Ayumi… it’s beautiful."

She smiled at him and dipped her head in acknowledgement. "I don’t usually raid your greenhouse, but when I saw the orchid, the arrangement just came to me. I felt that you should have it."

Because of her arthritis, Ayumi had all but given up on flower arrangements in the past year or two. For her to make one for Aya, and to give him one of her own vases…. Aya could only stare at the flower. He was used to receiving lavish gifts from Hirofumi, but this… this was the most precious thing he’d received in some time.

"Thank you," Aya replied quietly, knowing how much doing any ikebana pained Ayumi, reminding her of her age and her increasing frailties.

"You’re welcome." Ayumi ran the thick fingers of her right hand over her ornate obi. "You make me long for my youth, Aya, and a body that isn’t such a traitor. I would make the sadness leave you and gift you with flowers everyday if I was but half my age." There was silence for another few minutes.

Then Ayumi picked up the teapot and prepared to make more tea. "Now, do you want to hear of all the things you missed while you were gone?" Her tone was much lighter than it had been a few minutes ago. "You would not believe what that silly Maki got herself into!" Aya focused his attention on his friend as she related the past few days of gossip.

*******

Yohji walked back to his new apartment, his hands full with the handles of all the bags he was carrying. He really should have taken his car when he’d gone shopping since he bought so much and needed to move the vehicle into his reserved spot in the underground garage beneath the building, but Yohji hadn’t wanted to deal with the hassle of parking near the stores. So instead he’d gotten some exercise, and was now hungry and his arms felt in danger of falling off because to the weight of the bags.

Approaching the front door to the apartment building, Yohji soon realized that he was going to have to put a few of the bags down on the ground if he wanted to free up a hand to open the door. Great, instead of the goons inside, couldn’t they have a doorman or something? He started to lower the bags in his right hand.

"Here, let me get that for you."

Yohji looked up at a sweaty, disheveled young man who looked just a couple years younger than himself. The man had dark brown hair and eyes, and wore a friendly grin on his attractive face. Yohji absentmindedly noted his tan, toned physique and the awful orange football jersey he was wearing. There was something familiar about him….

"Thanks."

The other man nodded as he opened the door, and Yohji was a bit surprised to see the stranger enter the building with him, and the security guards wave back at him. The man walked with him over to the elevators and smiled at him again as they waited for the doors to open.

"So, you new here?"

"Yeah, just moved in today. The name’s Kudoh Yohji. And you?"

"Hidaka Ken. I live in 8G. Here, let me help you with those things." Ken reached for some of Yohji’s bags, and he gratefully handed a few of them over, just to restore circulation to his fingers. Yohji didn’t know if he could trust this guy, but Ken seemed affable enough, and had a dumb and honest air to him. What the hell he was doing in a building like this, Yohji didn’t know. Then the elevator arrived and they both stepped inside.

"Thanks for the help. You don’t mind coming up to my floor?"

Ken smiled again and shook his head. "Nah, it’s not like I have much to do right now. There’s not a game on for another hour at least."

Yohji watched in horror as droplets of sweat were tossed into the air by the man’s motion. While it was a warm spring, at least this early in the season, there was no cause for him to be so sweaty, unless he’d had one hell of a workout. Which was too much effort in Yohji’s opinion. Why bother getting that worked up over something as dull as exercise? Especially when there were more enjoyable ways of getting sweaty. While Yohji did do a little daily workout routine, at least when he wasn’t too hungover, all he was trying to do was stay a little toned and not run out of breath while on the dance floor or in bed.

"So, you must be moving into 13E then," Ken commented as he gestured to the button Yohji had hit. Brown eyes inspected him from head to toe, appraising him, and Yohji couldn’t resist giving the other man a sexy smile, one that had the poor boy blushing furiously and looking the other way.

Just then the elevator reached his floor, and still gazing at the flushed man, Yohji stepped out into the hall, and immediately collided with someone who smelled of flowers. There was confusion for a second, and whatever the person had been carrying fell to the floor. Yohji took a dazed step away from the person and stopped when he finally noticed whom he had run into.

The woman was dressed in a dark grey kimono that looked expensive as all hell, judging by the fine decoration on the heavy silk, though there was something wrong with the outfit. Then he noticed her long red hair, the color of fresh blood, that fell in wisps around her pale face and hung down the woman’s back in a long braid. She was a bit on the tall side, but she was beautiful with that outrageous hair that somehow didn’t look dyed, not with her coloring and the matching brows, her pale skin and bright, violet colored eyes surrounded by thick black lashes.

"Sorry, darling."

The woman stared at the floor for a moment, a look of pain on her face, and before Yohji could look down to see what she was staring at, she lifted her head and fixed a glare on him. The expression was so filled with rage that Yohji took a step backwards, which caused a look of panic to replace the glare.

"Watch where you’re stepping!" The woman spoke not in a soft voice, but one deep and harsh. Shit, that didn’t sound like a woman. As the redhead bent down and picked up a crushed flower and a shallow black vase that seemed to have survived the fall on the thick hall carpet, Yohji figured out what was wrong with the kimono. There were light grey pants underneath it, and the obi was way too thin. At least, it was too thin for a kimono worn by a woman. Add that to her deep voice and the closer look at her face, and Yohji had a sudden realization. Shit, the redhead was a man.

Stunned by that revelation, Yohji didn’t say anything while the oddly dressed man held the crushed flower cradled in his hand for a moment, and then treated him to a glare even more potent than the previous one. Yohji swore he heard the word ‘asshole’ muttered, and then the man turned around and stormed off down the hall.

"Hey, I said I’m sorry!" He called out after the furious man, but all the redhead did was walk down to the apartment at the end of the hall, right next door to Yohji’s, and open the door. The stranger turned to glare one more time at him and then slammed the door closed behind him. Yohji stared down the hallway, trying to figure out what the hell was the bastard’s problem. Yeah, he’d bumped into him and had probably been responsible for the damaged flower, but he had apologized for the accident. It was just a fucking flower.

"What the hell is up with him?"

Ken moaned softly and started down the hall towards Yohji’s apartment. "Great, just great. You’ve been here for less than a day, and you’ve pissed Aya off already. If I were you, Kudoh-san, I wouldn’t do much unpacking just yet."

Unlocking his door and entering his apartment, Yohji gestured for Ken to follow him inside. "Call me Yohji, I hate being called by my last name all the time." He stalked towards the kitchen. "You know that asshole? Want a beer?"

"A beer would be nice, and if I’m to call you Yohji, call me Ken," the younger man said as he set Yohji’s bags down on the kitchen counter. "For as long as you’re here, anyway."

Noticing that the movers had unpacked and set up his kitchen, which wasn’t more than a microwave, kitchen table and chairs, and a few pots, plates, utensils and a lot of glasses, Yohji searched through the bags until he found a six-pack and pulled it out. He then put all the bags in his fridge, figuring he could sort them out later. Handing Ken one of the beers, he motioned towards the living room.

"Come in here and have a seat." The movers sure had been busy, and the room was all ready for him to entertain, except for the few pictures that leaned against the walls. His black leather sofa and chairs were stationed in front of his television, which was set up to avoid the glare from the large patio doors. Yohji noted that he had the space for a love seat and resolved to go out and buy one in another day or two. He sprawled out on the sofa while Ken gingerly sat in one of the chairs.

"Now, what are you talking about? Why won’t I be here for long?"

Ken took a sip of his beer before answering. "That was Aya you ran into in the hall."

"Aya who?" Yohji made quick work of his beer, earning an amazed look from Ken, and set the empty can on the table by the sofa and grabbed a full one.

"Just Aya. As far as anyone knows, he doesn’t have a last name. A lot of the people who live here don’t." Ken looked down at the can that he held in his hands for a moment, as if searching for something. Then he sighed and shifted further back in the chair. Yohji cringed at the thought of the man’s sweaty back touching the expensive leather. He’d need to clean it as soon as Ken left.

"Ah hell, I might as well tell you, you’ll hear about it eventually." Ken treated Yohji to a lopsided grin. "You do know who most of the people who live here are, don’t you?"

Yohji nodded. "Yeah, I know all about the Hanabatake. It’s a place for the rich and influential to hide away their mistresses." He started to toy with a lock of his hair. "Anyone with enough money or connections can stash their sweeties here, and that’s why the rent is so high and the security so tight." From the look of curiosity on Ken’s face, he was trying to figure out how Yohji had landed an apartment. He was curious too, about Ken. The man didn’t look like anything special, though he was attractive. And Yohji was sure he’d seen the man somewhere before….

"That about sums it up. Let me give you a word of advice, be careful who you flirt with here. There are a lot of jealous boyfriends and sugar daddies around here who like having their lovers squirreled away someplace safe and out of reach, and quite a few of them are yakuza. I’ve seen a few people disappear for fooling around." Ken’s eyes became shadowed for a moment, and he quickly finished off his beer and reached for another one. Yohji beat him to it and tossed it to him.

"Thanks." Ken paused to open it and take a sip. "Anyway, we were talking about Aya, weren’t we?"

Yohji nodded as he rose to his feet and pulled out a cigarette. He offered one to Ken before he headed to the balcony and opened the sliding doors, but he turned it down. "Yes we were. What’s his deal? Why is he dressed so funny, and who shoved the stick up his ass?"

Ken laughed for a few seconds. "God, don’t let him hear you say that." He took another sip of his beer. "If there is one person living here you don’t want to piss off, it’s him."

"How come?" Yohji leaned against the wall and blew his smoke outside.

"Because of who his boyfriend and friend are. Down the hall is a very old lady who’s been here since after the war. From what I hear, her lover used to be a very important government official, and even though he’s now dead, she still has a good bit of power as far as the Hanabatake is concerned. She’s been here the longest, and she knows all the old-timers very well. Ayumi, that’s her name, used to be a well known geisha, and she still has some very influential people who visit her." Ken brushed back his sweaty bangs. "Hell, even the yakuza watch their step around her. They won’t swear in her presence, and they treat her like she was royalty."

"And she’s Aya’s friend, I take it?" Yohji blew smoke rings into the air and after a few more puffs tossed it aside and returned to the couch. He couldn’t believe that Ken was talking this much to him, a stranger, but he would try to get as much information as he could before the man shut up.

"Yeah, she is. He’s been here longer than I have, and all I know is that as soon as he moved in, she took to him. He’s always visiting her and taking her flowers and gifts."

Huh, the little darling was a kiss-ass, Yohji mused as he picked up another beer. "Okay, so who’s his boyfriend, then?" While the man was beautiful, Yohji had a hard time imaging Aya being someone’s… kept boy. He looked cold to the touch. But he was also very exotic, even more so than him. Yohji knew that his Eurasian looks attracted a lot of clients to him, and imagined that it was the same for the redhead. Guess they had a least one thing in common.

"Hirofumi Takatori."

Grateful he hadn’t been drinking at that moment, Yohji sputtered as he sat up and looked directly at Ken. "Are you serious?"

Ken’s eyes were twinkling with delight, and he looked like the boy who had spilled the biggest secret just for the hell of it. "I’m serious. If you manage to hang around here long enough you’ll find out for yourself." Then Ken’s expression became serious. "Just don’t breathe a word about that to anyone outside this building."

"I may be blond, but I’m not stupid," Yohji muttered. So the pretty boy was a Takatori’s bitch? He’d never heard a single rumor attached to that family about any of them having a male lover. Then again, when one’s father was the Prime Minister, one was probably able to hide a good many things. And the fact that he was gay would definitely be something Hirofumi Takatori would want to hide.

"Well, you were pretty stupid to piss off Aya, that’s for certain." Ken set his can down on the coffee table. "People who tend to rub Aya the wrong way have a habit of finding themselves kicked out onto the street. I’ve seen it happen a couple times since I moved in, and…." Ken’s face became sad. "And that’s not all."

Yohji raised his eyebrows and tilted his head, silently willing the man to continue. Ken gazed at him for a moment and then looked down at his hands.

"I don’t want to scare you away from this apartment, but are you aware that the last person who lived here committed suicide?"

"Yeah, I know." Rika had explained that to him, but the thought of someone dying in the apartment hadn’t made Yohji want to turn down his client’s offer. "What about it?"

Ken started blushing again. "Um, a lot of the people who own these apartments do so because their lovers… aren’t quite socially acceptable for them to be seen with in public. Some of the residents here are men…," for a moment Ken’s cheeks became redder, "… and some are little more than kids. Hell, they are kids." He paused for a moment, as if unsure he should continue. "The guy who owned the apartment before you was into little girls, Yohji."

"How little?" Rika hadn’t told him this part.

"….Anywhere from eight to fourteen, from what I understand. When they grew too old for Kimura, he got rid of them and found a new girl. The last one he had in here couldn’t have been more than thirteen." Ken picked up his beer and took a few gulps.

"Her name was Sakura, and she was sweet, if a little dumb. She was a friendly person, and lonely, so we were good friends. She also thought the world of Aya." Ken shrugged his shoulders. "Rumor was they’d become lovers, since she was one of the few people he’d talk to, and he gave her flowers occasionally. I don’t know if I believe that was true, but that’s the general opinion. One day she was all hysterical and desperate to see Aya, and rumor is that they had a talk. People think that he broke off the relationship with her during it, and that’s what caused her to kill herself later that night."

Gods, what a disgusting tale. How could anyone want to take advantage of such a young girl? If the story was true, Yohji wanted nothing more than to punch Aya the next he saw the man, no matter who the bastard’s friends were.

"Why don’t you believe the rumors? You know something that the others don’t?"

Shaking his head, Ken looked towards the patio doors. "Not really. It’s just that I never saw Aya treat her in any way as if she was his lover, and I’ve heard that he’s got one hell of a jealous boyfriend. He works out a lot in the gym, he practices kendo just about every day, so I see him there a lot. I’ve caught him with bruises a few times, including one time not long after Sakura had moved in and the rumors about them had started. He looked as if he’d gotten the shit beat out of him. But the funny thing is he never treated Sakura differently after that."

"Huh." Yohji finished off his second beer and started on his third. Then his morbid curiosity got the better of him. He’d always been told he was too noisy for his own good. "How did she kill herself?"

"She sealed off the kitchen and lit a charcoal stove. Aya was the one to find her; he broke into the apartment when he didn’t see or hear from her after a couple days." Ken rose to his feet and placed his beer on the coffee table. "This is a nice apartment. It’s a bit bigger than Kase’s and mine." Again, he blushed. "Uh, are you going to be here alone or what?"

Smiling at the way the younger man had stuttered out the question, Yohji waved his hand in the air. "The whole place is mine and only mine. Though I’ll have lots of guests. I’m the entertaining type," he hedged. But Ken seemed to get the drift and turned even redder. Yohji wondered who this Kase was, and what his relationship was with Ken. He didn’t scream ‘gay’ to him, but Yohji wasn’t the expert on that. He’d only had a few male lovers, and most of them had been clients who he’d serviced. It didn’t really matter to him what he stuck his dick into, as long as he was having a good time and was getting paid. A quiet voice inside his head reminded him that it hadn’t always been like that.

"Oh. I get it." Ken looked down at his hands, which he’d started to wring. "Um, listen, there aren’t a whole lot of guys here. I mean, I can count about sixteen of us, including you, Aya and me. And a lot of them you can’t really consider guys, if you catch my drift. So, I’m down in 8G, and if you want to hang out or something, stop by. I’m usually here, unless I’m out running."

It was interesting that Ken made no mention of spending time with a lover, Yohji noted. He nodded, knowing that he’d entered a complex situation with this building and he could use some help fitting into what was probably a cliquey environment.

"That sounds great. Feel free to stop by for a visit yourself, sometime after noon, that is. I’m not usually up before then." He winked at Ken. "I need my beauty sleep so my ladies aren’t disappointed."

His blush slowly fading, Ken grinned back at him and made his way to the door. "Not many people are up before noon, other than Aya and me. We run into each other in the gym a lot because we both try to get in there before it gets crowded."

"So what is the deal with him dressing the way he does, as if he just stepped out of some historical drama," Yohji asked. Hell, he’d mistaken the guy for a woman, and that was something he almost never did. Who the hell wore kimonos anymore, other than women? Was Aya wearing them to make himself more Japanese? The last person that Yohji wanted for a neighbor was a prissy half-breed with connections who put on airs.

Pausing by the door as he slipped his running shoes back on, Ken appeared puzzled for a moment. "I don’t know, to be honest. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear anything else. I heard someone mention that Ayumi was training him to be a geisha just like her, but I think that was them just being snide. A lot of people are jealous that Aya’s her favorite."

Yep, the place was definitely cliquey. Not that Yohji cared much, one way or another. He owned his apartment, and he didn’t have to answer to anybody. And he really didn’t plan on being too much of a social butterfly here, he had enough drama with all of his clients and didn’t want to deal with that when he wasn’t working, though it would be nice to share the occasional beer or two with Ken. At least until he found out the man’s story and all the information he could get about the Hanabatake’s residents out of him.

"Well, he can play dress-up all he wants, he just better not try and get me evicted or he’ll have something other than a stick shoved up his ass." Yohji finally had a place of his own and a chance to take a break from the lifestyle that had sucked him in a couple of years ago, and he wasn’t letting go of it without one hell of a fight. If the pretty boy tried to take him on, he’d get his ass kicked.

*******

Aya stormed into his apartment and hurried to his kitchen. He set the mangled flower on the counter, frowning in sorrow as he noticed there was no hope for the poor thing. The damn blond’s boots had destroyed the delicate orchid. Then he held up the vase in the light from the window over the sink and carefully checked it for cracks.

At least the vase hadn’t been damaged. Then Aya’s face blanched when he recognized the maker’s mark on the bottom. Gods, Ayumi had given him an Ozaki vase. Aya had never thought to hold one in his hands, let alone own one. And the damn blond bastard had almost broken it.

Trembling in anger, Aya quietly walked into his workroom. Like the rest of the apartment it was decorated in traditional style, with tatami floors, lacquered screens and paper sliding doors, the furniture low to the floor. A large table took up most of the room, where he worked on his ikebana arrangements. Two of the walls were covered with shelves that were filled with books, dried arrangements, vases and several gifts that Hirofumi had given him. After taking a few deep breaths to help calm himself down, Aya cleared a little space and carefully placed the precious vase on a mahogany shelf. It was positioned so he’d be able to look upon it as he worked on his flowers, and Aya was sure it would serve as a source of inspiration for him. Just staring at it was causing his anger to melt away.

He was still admiring the piece of art when his phone rang. Reaching for the cordless phone that rested on his low table, Aya regarded the appliance with some trepidation as he knelt down. He received very few phone calls, and only three people called him about personal matters. He’d just spoken with Ayumi, Kikyou had plans for the day, so that left Hirofumi. Who should be in a business meeting for most of the day. Aya picked up the phone and answered it in a calm sounding voice.

"Aya, how are you? Are you busy?"

It _was_ Hirofumi. Aya closed his eyes for a moment and wondered what the man wanted from him now.

"No, Hiro, I’m not busy at the moment." As if there ever was much to keep him occupied, other than Ayumi and his hobbies. "I just came back from tea with Ayumi. She says to tell you hello. How is the meeting going?"

There was a disgruntled snort on the other end of the line. "It’s very boring, and I can’t believe I’m going to be wasting a whole day listening to the same reports on how the yen stands in comparison to other currencies, and will do the same thing again in a couple more weeks. But I didn’t call you during the break to complain about my day."

"Oh?" Aya made sure to keep his voice neutral, wondering if he wasn’t going to have his week of personal time after all.

"Yes. I went through a few files my secretary put together for me while on the way to the meeting today, and one of them concerns your sister. I thought you might want to be aware of the situation."

"Is she all right?" Panic filled Aya as he imagined what must have happened to the girl for Hirofumi to be calling him like this.

"Yes, she’s fine, Aya. But her car isn’t, I’m afraid. It seems there had been a bad ice storm in New England the other day, and your sister’s car, along with a couple of others, was damaged during an accident in her apartment building’s parking lot. Quite considerable damage."

"But she wasn’t hurt, was she?" Aya pressed a hand against his chest, trying to still his heart’s frantic beating. Nothing could have happened to his sister, not little Aya-chan. She was the last family member he had left, and he’d sacrificed so much for her. She had to be all right.

Hirofumi sighed deeply. "Gods, Aya, I’m not going about this properly, am I? I just called to let you know what happened, and to reassure you that I’ve already authorized a new car to be purchased for her, since hers is too badly damaged to repair. I didn’t want you to worry in case she sent you a letter about it. Everything is taken care of." The other man was quiet for a moment. "I’m sorry if I scared you for a moment. It’s a very nice car, the new one. It’s a new model of her old one, which you said she really liked."

Aya closed his eyes for a second and focused on the fact that his sister was safe. She was alive and well, and was probably torn between being ecstatic about the new car and feeling guilty about him spending more money on her.

"She knows about the new car?"

"I don’t know yet. I just found out about it a couple hours ago, and had Shimohira working on it before I went to the meeting. I have a note from her that the matter’s been taken care of, and that your sister will have her new car in the morning, her time."

Hirofumi had acted fast, but then he always did when Aya-chan was concerned. He knew how much the girl meant to Aya, after all. Aya thought about how much the new car must cost and lowered his head.

"Thank you, Hiro. I’m very grateful that you handled the matter so quickly."

"It was nothing, Aya. Really, all I did was make a couple calls, and the matter was resolved." Hirofumi’s voice was warm and soothing, and Aya could picture his lover smiling as he spoke. Hirofumi could have a very charming smile, when he wanted.

"So, you saw Ayumi already? Did she enjoy the presents you bought her?"

Almost nodding his head, Aya remembered he was on the phone and quietly answered the question. "Yes, she did. She had a present for me, in fact. A beautiful arrangement in an Ozaki vase." He knew Hirofumi would wonder about the vase when he saw it, and that it would be best to mention it now. That way he wouldn’t be suspicious about the gift.

"Ah, you’ve mentioned that artist before, I believe. I’m happy for you, Aya. And grateful to Ayumi for keeping you company."

"Yes." Chewing on his bottom lip for a moment, Aya considered if he should mention what Ayumi had told him earlier or not. But he would owe Hirofumi for the new car, so he might as well brazen it out. "Hiro, she was very happy about the two of us attending the cherry blossom gazing together. She even mentioned ordering a new kimono for the event."

The older man was silent for a moment, and then he spoke, his voice still warm. "I see. She still buys her kimonos from Kitamura, correct?"

"Yes."

"Very well, I’ll take care of the matter. Is there anything else, Aya? I only have a few minutes left before the meeting resumes."

Lifting his head, Aya forced himself to say the words. "No, thank you, Hiro. Would… I know you’re very busy this week, and won’t have the time to come here and see me, but perhaps I can come visit you." He hated giving up his week of peace, but Aya owed the man too much to just accept the gifts without making some sort of effort in reparation. That would be the only way he could live with himself, if he tried in some small way to pay his lover back for his largesse.

"Aya…." Hirofumi’s voice became deep and husky. "I’d love to see you again, and soon. However, I really will be busy this week." Aya felt his hopes begin to rise. "I know, you can come to my office at the Parliament tomorrow. I’ll have a short lunch available, and will be able to spend some time with you. Be there at 11:30, and wear the kimono with the family crests. I’ll see you then, love."

"Yes." Aya held the phone to his ear until he heard Hirofumi hang up, and then slowly lowered it back to his worktable. For a moment he thought of the small cedar chest in one of his closets, and the items stored inside of it, and then he looked up at the vase Ayumi had given him. Now wasn’t the time for that, not when he still had so many obligations. But one day it would be, and he’d be able to put this shame behind him.

"Shikata ga nai." The phrase helped to focus him, to remind him that some things simply had to be endured. Aya rose to his feet and decided that now would be a good time to go shopping and purchase some groceries. Once that was done he could make sure that his flowers were doing well in his greenhouse, and maybe start a new arrangement, one that he could take to Ayumi that evening. He should probably ask her if she wanted to go out with him tomorrow; it would look best if people assumed he was accompanying her to the Parliament Building rather than visiting his lover.

*******

Ayumi sat in her apartment’s living room, staring out her patio doors at the setting sun. In the background Kohmi was singing a cheerful song as she washed the dinner dishes, and the woman paused for a moment to ask Ayumi if she wanted any ice cream for dessert.

"No thank you, Kohmi. I’m fine." Ayumi lifted her cup of tea to her lips and let the bitter drink flow into her mouth. The familiar taste helped to soothe her, and she thought that maybe she’d indulge in some sake a little later that night. There was still a little left in the bottle that Aya had brought her two weeks ago.

Thinking about her young friend, Ayumi set her teacup down on the table before her and sighed. Kitamura’s son had called right before dinner to inform her that the kimono his father was finishing for her and any future orders were now to be billed to Aya’s lover.

She shouldn’t have said anything at tea that morning. Even tired as he was from his trip, Aya would have known what a new kimono would mean. While Ayumi’s son made sure that she had enough money for the necessities, there wasn’t much left over for any frivolities, and a new kimono would have been a very expensive one. But Ayumi had been saving up for some time, especially since Aya made sure to take care of almost all non-essential purchases for her. He paid when they went out for tea or a meal, it was his credit line they used when they shopped together, and it was the flowers that he grew himself that filled her apartment with beauty. All Ayumi had wanted was a new kimono to wear this year as she spent the evening under the cherry blossoms with the few friends she had left.

If only Natsuo had left her more than the apartment and all the gifts he’d bought her. She knew that he had told his son to look out for her, and had thought that enough. Reijiro did make sure she had enough to live on, but little else. He didn’t seem to care if she had enough to keep her occupied or happy. But what else did she expect from a man who had never seen her in person?

"I think someone is being a touch maudlin tonight. Maybe sake wouldn’t be such a good idea." It would be depressing to drink alone, or with just Kohmi as company, and she didn’t want to bother Aya. For a moment Ayumi remembered when she was younger, and it seemed that never would a night pass her by that she hadn’t spent it at some teahouse or private residence, drinking with several men and other geishas. It was such a shame that very few people celebrated in that manner anymore. No, now the men went to bars where the girls who served their drinks were little more than prostitutes. They wanted sex for entertainment, not flirting, laughter, song and music.

Thinking again of Aya, Ayumi smiled sadly and lifted her head to look at the photograph of herself that had been taken shortly after the war. She was in all her finery, so young and beautiful that it ached to look at the way she’d been. It was such a shame that the geishas’ days of glory were in the past, and that Aya was a man. If he’d been a woman, Ayumi had no doubt she could have shaped Aya into the most popular geisha in Tokyo. With his beauty, natural grace and intelligence, he would have been a success.

But Aya was a man, one who was filled with sorrow that grew with each passing year. It had caused Ayumi pain to see how reluctantly the young man had left for Kyoto, and the shadows in his eyes when he’d return. Here they could forget about how different from everyone they were, but in the Takatori estate in Kyoto, Aya would continually have had to face the fact that he was another man’s lover, bound to Hirofumi for as long as the man wanted him. At least Ayumi had truly loved Natsuo, even if she wasn’t quite so foolish as to believe that he had felt the same strong emotion for her. She had been just another prize, for him.

It was funny to think about how much Aya’s situation was like hers, except for the fact that Hirofumi did love Aya, possessively so. Enough to pay for his sister’s many bills, and to make sure an old woman would have all the kimonos her heart could desire.

She’d give up all those future kimonos, and the many she had stored away, memories of the past and invaluable objects that she couldn’t force herself to sell, even if her funds were sometimes tight, for a chance of freedom for Aya. With each passing year she saw less and less of the boy who had moved into 13F four years ago, scared and alone yet desperate not to appear so. The same boy who had eagerly learned ikebana from Ayumi as something to keep him occupied. The same boy who was slowly dying inside with each passing day. Ran was becoming a fading memory, replaced by cold, aloof Aya. A young man who had shut out the entire world except her and a precious few other individuals.

*******

Yohji had just finished lighting the candles in the living room when he heard a knock on the door. Happy about perfectly judging how long it would take Rika to reach his apartment after a guard had called to make sure that the older woman had approval to visit him, Yohji smiled warmly and hurried to the door. He opened it and graced Rika with his sexiest grin as he bowed low to her, pretending to sweep a hat before him like he’d seen actors in foreign historical dramas do. The silly gesture earned him a giggle.

"Such a gentleman, Yohji. I’m going to miss you terribly so."

Yohji straightened up and grasped Rika’s hand and led her to the living room. The attractive woman, who was in her mid forties yet still possessed the slim figure of a woman at least ten years younger than herself, glanced around at the apartment the entire way to the large room.

"I’d offer you a tour, but there isn’t much to see at the present, I’m afraid. The spare room is currently empty, the kitchen barely furnished… and the bedroom I’m saving as a surprise," he informed Rika with a wink as she settled on his leather sofa. Yohji quickly poured her a glass of her favorite wine, which he had resting in a bucket of ice on an end table and joined her. Part of his reputation had been earned by the genteel manner he treated his ladies, and most of his customers enjoyed that from him. The rest… Yohji was more than happy to treat in any manner that they wished as long as they paid him for it. A little voice inside his head chided Yohji over the dark thought.

"No, I have no desire to see an empty room or… the kitchen." Rika shivered slightly in her elegant pale yellow cashmere dress. Then she forced a smile onto her lips. "But I’m rather looking forward to seeing the bedroom."

"Then you shall, dear lady." Yohji leaned forward to brush his lips against Rika’s, his leather-clad thighs pressing against hers. She moaned softly as his arms wrapped around her and his hands stroked down her back. Rika liked it when her back was touched, almost as much as she enjoyed having her long hair played with. Luckily, Yohji had a very good memory, which his drinking hadn’t yet impaired, and he almost never mixed up one client’s turn-ons with another’s.

"Hmm, Rika, do you really have to go to Hawaii?" Yohji breathed out the question as he pulled back the slightest bit to drink in the dazed look on her face. He so enjoyed it when he overwhelmed his darlings, used as they were to husbands who were more interested in their careers than the women they’d married. For added effect he stroked Rika’s cheek.

"I… yes, Yohji, I really have to. I miss my sister, and I… I can’t stand living here any longer. Now I’m finally free to go," she said passionately. Yohji imagined he’d be only too happy to run away if he was her, to leave behind a life that had been filled with disappointment and shame. If Yohji thought his life would be any different someplace else, he himself would have left Tokyo a long time ago. But moving was never a very effective means to escape one’s past when one was haunted. You just tended to take the demons and ghosts along with you.

It was almost as if Rika had read some of his thoughts. "You should come with me, Yohji. You’d love Hawaii, I’m sure." She smiled at him as she tucked back a lock of Yohji’s hair.

Shaking his head, Yohji kissed his client tenderly on her lips. "I’m a Tokyo boy, born and bred, even though I don’t look like it," he managed without even a trace of bitterness. "Besides, a lovely woman like you, unleashed on Hawaii… you’ll have so many suitors that you’ll forget all about me in less than a month." She would, too. After all, Yohji was just a fuck toy she’d taken up to get even at her cheating husband. Maybe Rika cared for him a little more than she should, but she was smart enough to know that she’d have no future with a gigolo.

Her sad smile seemed to say that she realized that too, and she lifted her head to kiss Yohji on the cheek. "At least I know I won’t have to worry about you when I’m gone. You’ll do well here, Yohji, I just know it. You seem at home here already."

He’d thanked Rika for the apartment their last time together, and Yohji had gotten in the habit the past couple of years of never showing how much anything had affected him, so he wouldn’t do so again. But he could still show his appreciation to a woman who deserved someone much better than him.

"It seems to me that if you’re leaving in a couple days and this is the last we’ll see of each other, I need to get my fill of you now." Yohji quickly rose to his feet and picked Rika up in his arms, making her cry out in surprise. He silenced the sound with a deep kiss. "What do you think about seeing the bedroom now?"

"I think I’d like that very much," Rika laughed as she was carried away.

*******

Yohji pulled up the sheets, still smelling of sex, to his chin and snuggled deeper into his bed. Rika was gone and he was alone for the night, but tipsy and sated enough that he shouldn’t do much more than sleep till noon. It would have been nicer to have a warm body to cuddle up with, but he was used to doing without by now. Then he put a deliberate stop to such thoughts before he dredged up the past and the nightmares that would haunt his sleep. He’d gotten somewhat skilled at that over the past couple years.

Just about to fall asleep, Yohji wondered if Aya had heard anything through the wall they shared. Hmm, Rika had always been a loud one, and Yohji had made her pretty much scream for a good part of the night. He snickered for a moment at the thought of the pretty boy, his hair in curlers and his face covered with some beauty cream of one kind or another, kept awake by Rika’s cries. It served the prissy bastard right. Though maybe Aya would get his revenge when his boyfriend showed up for a piece of his ass.

Wondering what the redhead had hidden beneath all that silk, Yohji chuckled softly as he slowly fell asleep. It had to be something nice to rate Aya a place in this apartment building.

*******

Aya walked into the Parliament building with Ayumi on his arm and his head lowered. A black wig covered his distinctive hair and he strived to keep people from noticing his eyes. His light brown haori, decorated with a pastoral scene of Mount Fuji on the back, and his black kimono and hakama drew some attention towards him, but then the eyes would focus on Ayumi, who also was wearing a black kimono. Hers was decorated all along the bottom with vibrant plum blossoms, and she wore a dark purple obi and haori. She smiled and nodded at the elderly politicians who called out her name. Several of the men made an effort to walk over to her and to inquire about her health. Aya was regarded merely as an escort.

Eventually they made their way to an elevator, and the two of them got off on one of the upper floors. Stepping into the quiet hallway, Ayumi patted Aya’s arm and smiled reassuringly at him.

"I’m off to see Okazawaya-san. When would you like to meet up?"

"Give me forty five minutes, Ayumi. I’ll be waiting for you right here." Aya bowed slightly to his friend and strode down the hall towards the steps. He’d been in the building a few times before, and knew where Hirofumi’s office was in relation to all the stairwells. Aya wished that he could have met the man at his office at the Takatori Corporation, but Hirofumi was busy working on some budget matters for his father and would be here for several more weeks.

In a matter of minutes Aya had reached Hirofumi’s office. The secretary, a middle-aged woman with short black hair watched him enter the room, the bright blush that always appeared when she saw him creeping over her cheeks as he nodded to her and walked to Hirofumi’s door. Shimohira knew of their relationship and would make sure the two of them wouldn’t be interrupted during Hirofumi’s ‘lunch’.

Sliding into the room, Aya made sure to lock the door behind him. As the lock clicked, Hirofumi looked up from the computer on his desk and smiled at him, the expression hungry.

"Punctual as always, Aya." Hirofumi closed down the program he’d been working on and started to clear away the paperwork on his desk. Once a space was cleared he motioned to Aya.

"Take off the coat and the wig and come here."

Doing as he was told, Aya pulled off his wig and removed his haori, detouring towards a spare chair in the light grey room decorated with several plants and lovely wall scrolls. Hirofumi’s large oak desk dominated the room, overpowering everything but the leather couch off to the side. He left the items on the furniture and walked towards his lover.

Once he was in reach, Hirofumi pulled Aya towards him and passionately kissed him. Closing his eyes, Aya parted his lips and let the other man’s tongue enter his mouth. He kissed back as best he could, but Hirofumi was exceptionally ardent today, and very forceful. The man’s tongue delved deep into his mouth as Aya’s head was tilted backwards.

Hirofumi’s hand tugged at his hair, which had been pulled into a bun. In moments his long hair was hanging down his back, and Aya’s lover finally pulled away from him to look at him with impassioned dark brown eyes.

"Gods, Aya, you are so incredibly lovely." Hirofumi played with his hair for a moment, his fingers combing through the long strands and draping them over Aya’s chest. Then the older man arranged his hair so the white Takatori clan crests on the kimono were clearly displayed against a backdrop of crimson and ebony. "You wore it."

"Yes." As if he’d really had a choice. Hirofumi told him what to do, and Aya did it. Those were the rules and they would never change, not as long as both of them lived. Shikata ga nai.

His hands trembling, Hirofumi untied the thin obi that held Aya’s kimono tied closed. Once he was done he gathered the fabric in one hand and pressed Aya against the desk. The obi was set aside as Hirofumi worked on Aya’s hakama, untying the pleated pants and pushing them down his legs. Aya was naked underneath them.

"On the desk, I want you on it."

Doing as he was told, Aya seated himself on top of the furniture, mindful of the silk kimono. Hirofumi helped him to drape the expensive fabric behind him, so Aya’s bottom rested on the cool wood. His lover pushed the kimono open wider, his hands stroking Aya’s body almost reverently. Then they fell to Aya’s thighs, urging them to part until he was completely exposed. Only through a strong act of will, did Aya manage not to blush at the way the other man’s eyes roamed over his body.

"Touch yourself, Aya." Hirofumi shifted closer to him for a moment, kissing him swiftly and adjusting the kimono so that, though it was open, the clan crests were still displayed. Then he stepped back and fumbled at the zipper of his pants.

Aya closed his eyes and ran his fingers over his flaccid penis. He hoped that whatever Hirofumi had in mind would be quick so he could get through this and go home and clean himself. It was hard enough to endure when they were in his apartment, but to sit here like a common whore to be fucked at someone else’s convenience, that galled what little was left of Aya’s pride. Then he bitterly reminded himself that he was indeed a whore, just a very exclusive, very expensive one. Not common in the slightest.

"Open your eyes, Aya, and touch yourself harder." Aya looked at his lover, and found Hirofumi breathing heavily as he stroked his erection. Taking his own cock firmly in hand, Aya started to pump it at the same time his other hand lifted to toy with his nipples. The sooner he showed signs of arousal the sooner this would be over with. Hirofumi clung to the illusion that Aya wanted this just as much as he did.

Groaning as Aya touched himself, Hirofumi stepped closer to him. He grabbed Aya’s discarded obi and then his left ankle, pushing it farther to the side and forcing Aya to spread his legs even wider. Aya fell backwards on the desk, his arms moving from his body to provide him some support. Hirofumi yanked on his left wrist, pulling it forward as Aya fell onto his back, and quickly grabbed his right one as well and tied his hands together. He pulled on Aya’s hips, dragging him towards the edge of the desk and against his groin. Aya could feel the man’s erection press against his exposed opening.

Hirofumi’s hands then continued the job that Aya’s had started, pumping his cock and tweaking his nipples until Aya was semi-hard. Breathing heavily, Hirofumi ground his erection against Aya.

"Say it, love."

"Hiro… fuck me. I want you." Aya wanted to close his eyes, but Hirofumi stared intently at him as he fumbled inside one of the desk drawers. "I want you in me, hard and deep." The scent of almonds filled the air.

"Gods, Aya…." Slick, long fingers pressed against Aya, one of them sliding inside him. Wincing slightly at the feeling, Aya’s bound hands clenched and unclenched. Hirofumi leaned against him, his fine wool suit rasping along Aya’s bare skin, and he lifted Aya’s arms until they were positioned over his head. Aya gasped when the finger brushed against that special spot inside him, making his body jerk in pleasure.

As if that was the signal, Hirofumi leaned down and kissed him again. "Keep your legs spread and your arms over your head." There was another forceful, brief kiss. "You have no idea how often I’ve imagined you like this, lying on my desk for me to take however I want you. Mine to fuck, to make you beg. Do you want it, Aya?"

Arching his back, Aya looked at his lover with heavy lidded eyes. "I want it, Hiro. I’m yours. Fuck me however you want."

Pulling away his hand, Hirofumi quickly tugged off his fine suit, making sure to drape it over his chair so it wouldn’t wrinkle. When he was done he positioned Aya’s heels on the desk so his legs were as widely splayed apart as possible with Aya’s hips tilted upward. Aya felt as if he was on some sort of medieval torture device, a rack of some devise. The position was awkward and his arms were hanging over the desk, the limbs starting to go numb.

"I want you fast and hard, Aya. I want you now."

"Hurry, Hiro. Do it." Even as he said the words, wanting to just get this over with, Aya hadn’t expected Hirofumi to be so rough and quick. He had to bite back on a cry when his hips were roughly grabbed and his lover’s cock shoved inside his barely stretched passage. He arched his back again, his body trying to escape from the pain, and a slight sound slipped past his lips when Hirofumi plunged inside him as deep as he could go in one sudden thrust.

"Aya, are you okay?"

Knowing if he said no that Hirofumi would guiltily pull out, Aya nodded and forced his hips to rock forward. Hirofumi was giving Aya-chan a chance to fulfill her dreams, to escape from the Fujimiyas’ shame, and all he wanted in return was Aya’s body. He often went above and beyond what was expected of him in regards to both Aya and his sister, and Aya could not fail in his side of their bargain. If Hirofumi wanted him like this, Aya wouldn’t say no. He would bear the pain and shame, just as he’d done for the past four years, and the next eight or so to come.

"Harder, Hiro, I want you." The words were roughly spoken, and as usual, Hirofumi assumed they were said in passion and not despair. He started to thrust inside Aya, plunging in deep and hard, just as Aya had asked. Aya gasped in pain until his hips were shifted upwards, and then he moaned in pleasure. No matter how dirty the act made him feel, the spark of bliss that Aya felt when Hirofumi hit that spot was enough to allow him to lose himself in the sex. For a few moments he could forget that he was letting himself be fucked by a man he didn’t love, all because of money.

Hirofumi was crying out his name loudly enough that Aya knew the secretary had to be hearing him, and then the man’s hand on his erection made him not care. He moaned at the twin stimuli driving him deeper and deeper into pleasure, and he didn’t fight the building orgasm. He hooked an ankle around Hirofumi’s waist and pressed the man more firmly against him, having Hirofumi thrust even harder against his prostate. His lover, sweat dripping down his face and chest, increased his pace, and Aya was lost under the barrage. He let out a cry as he came, his body shuddering and clenching around Hirofumi’s cock. The older man thrust in and out of him a few more times before he called out Aya’s name and came himself.

His lover collapsed on top of Aya, his panting mouth pressing kisses along Aya’s neck. Catching his breath, Aya lay there with his eyes closed, the pleasure slowly fading away and the pain from his arms and his ass replacing the feeling. But he didn’t move, not even when Hirofumi shifted off of him, sliding from Aya’s body.

"Aya, thank you." Hirofumi grasped Aya’s hands and helped him to sit up, and Aya couldn’t help but wince as he sat firmly on his bottom. Hirofumi frowned slightly, then reached into a drawer and pulled out a couple tissues. He gently wiped Aya’s body clean of semen and sweat.

"It did hurt, didn’t it?"

Sighing, Aya looked down at his tied hands. "A little, at first. But it got better, Hiro. You always make it feel great." And Hirofumi did, even refusing his own release if he was unable to provoke a response from Aya. Aya knew that, as lovers went, he was fortunate in that regard. Hirofumi was never only interested in just his own pleasure.

The man brushed back the long strands of hair that clung to Aya’s sweaty face and chest. "I’m sorry, but I’ve wanted for so long to take you like that, on my desk, at my mercy and still wanting me. It drove me nuts how I could barely spend any time with you in Kyoto, and knowing that I won’t be able to see you again for several days." He kissed Aya softly on the lips. "I wanted something satisfying enough to get us through the next week."

Aya grunted quietly, and when Hirofumi untied his hands he forced his arms to wrap around the man’s shoulders and leaned up to kiss him. Hirofumi ardently returned the gesture, his arms holding Aya close to him. When he pulled away it was to smile down at Aya.

"You know, I still have…" Hirofumi checked his watch, "…about twenty more minutes before I have to explain deficits to several men older than my grandfather. How about I spend that time trying to make things up to you?"

Not saying anything, Aya tilted his face up for another kiss.

*******

Yohji walked into the Hanabatake Apartment building with several take-out bags in his left hand. Tonight he’d be entertaining Yayoi, who adored Chinese food. Dinner and some plum wine would put her in a good mood, which meant that Yohji should have a rather enjoyable night. Yayoi was one of his favorite clients, young and rich and yearning to be incredibly naughty. Yohji enjoyed being naughty too, so they always had fun together. Then, come morning, he’d have the money for that new loveseat he wanted.

Striding towards the elevator, he found the pretty boy, Aya, standing there beside Shizuka and some woman dressed in a kimono. With his long red hair hanging down around his face, Aya looked much like a woman, and Yohji wondered if the man was some sort of transvestite or something. Maybe Aya was waiting for the day he could get his pee-pee snipped off and be a proper woman. Hell, he already had a head start on the mood swings and bitchiness.

"Ah, Kudoh-san, I’d like for you to meet two of our favorite residents," Shizuka called out to him. "This is Ayumi-sama and Aya-sama."

"I’ve the ‘pleasure’ of meeting Aya already, but not this vision of loveliness." Yohji ignored the redhead and bowed to the woman, who appeared to be in her late fifties, maybe early sixties at the latest. But hadn’t Ken told him that she’d been here since after the war, which would be fifty years or more?

The woman, dressed in black and deep purple, smiled coyly at him and bowed perfectly before him, not going a centimeter lower than the one he’d given her. "Ah, so the mystery is finally solved. You are our floor’s newest residence. It is my pleasure to meet you, Kudoh-san."

"Please, call me Yohji." Yohji smiled at the woman, noting how pretty she was, even at her age. Not a stunning beauty, but lovely. He wished more of his clients were like her, and so well preserved.

"How nice, Kudoh-san," the elderly geisha said in a bright tone of voice, her eyes narrowed slightly. She rested a hand on Aya’s arm, the redhead not saying a word during the entire introduction.

Shizuka wished the three of them a good day and pushed the elevator button for them. While they waited for the door to open, Yohji noted Ayumi treated him to an appraising look, and that Aya’s eyes remained fixed on the floor.

"Dear lady, I’m crushed. What must I do to earn your good graces and friendship?" Yohji gestured for Ayumi to precede him into the elevator, but she didn’t move until Aya stepped forward. Following the two, Yohji caught a faint whiff of what he knew to be the scent of sex: musk, sweat and something faintly aromatic. Almond oil, maybe. Interestingly enough, Ayumi only smelled of hyacinth.

Ayumi patted Aya’s arm. "You must respect my friends, for one thing."

Great, so the pretty boy had already whined to granny about their run-in in the hallway. Yohji let out a breath of air as he jerked his free hand through his hair.

"I apologized, you know, or at least tried to before he stomped off. I didn’t mean to step all over his damn flower."

Ayumi’s light brown eyes went wide for a moment, and then she looked up at Aya. "Aya, what is he talking about? Is this about the flower I gave you yesterday?"

Aya scowled at Yohji briefly before his expression became impassive once again and he looked at Ayumi.

"We ran into each other in the hallway, and I’m afraid to say the arrangement you gave me fell to the ground and was destroyed. But the vase survived intact."

Just then the elevator reached the floor, and Yohji stepped out of it, a bit more cautiously than yesterday and with a frown on his face. So Aya hadn’t told his friend about the incident and tried to get him thrown out. And Ayumi had given him the flower?

"Oh, Aya, I’m so sorry to hear that. I’ll try to make you another one."

"It’s okay, Ayumi." Aya patted the hand on his arm, and Yohji just now noticed how thick the small fingers were, and the swollen knuckles. He also noticed that Aya was the one carrying a couple of shopping bags. He trailed after the couple as they walked down the hall. They stopped before the apartment 13A, and Aya knocked on the door. A middle-aged woman quickly opened the door and called out Aya and Ayumi’s names, taking the bags from Aya as she held the door open.

Ayumi turned to gaze at Yohji. "It seems, Kudoh-san, that I need to be filled in on a few things, and should properly give you a proper welcome." She bowed towards him. "Please, it would be nice if you would stop by for tea sometime. Let me know when the time would be good for you." Then she bowed to Aya, much lower than she’d bowed to him, and went into her apartment.

Aya straightened from the bow he’d been returning and without a word headed for his apartment. Yohji walked beside him, glancing at the redhead out of the corner of his eye. Aya looked younger with his hair loose like that, and wonderfully androgynous. If only some sort of emotion would cross his face he’d be a very attractive man. Hell, he already was an attractive man, but if he smiled or something, he’d be a very attractive man Yohji wouldn’t mind getting to know better.

"So, this has been bugging me since yesterday. What’s with the outfit? I didn’t think guys could be geisha."

Aya finally looked at Yohji, but his face remained impassive. "There are such things as male geisha, in fact they existed before female geisha and there are still a few around today. As for why I dress the way I do, it’s none of your damn business." Aya continued walking towards his door.

Not appreciating the attitude, Yohji jabbed his key into his lock and glared at Aya. So the guy wouldn’t be nice to anyone who couldn’t do him any favors, it certainly seemed like. Yohji didn’t take shit from anyone, especially another half-breed.

"I guess you’re one of those people who gets all moody after sex, huh, Aya-chan? What’s the matter, did your boyfriend shoot his wad before you got a chance to? Did you at least give him his money’s worth, hmm?"

Aya, in the process of opening his door, lifted his head and stared at Yohji. For a moment Yohji caught a flash of anger and then deep grief and a weariness that made Aya look at least twice his age. His impassive visage now set into an expression of pain and sorrow, Aya slowly nodded his head.

"I always try my best to do just that," he said in a quiet voice before entering his apartment and closing the door behind him. Yohji could just stare at the spot where the redhead had been and slowly blink his eyes. Well, he’d wanted some show of emotion, hadn’t he? Something other than a glare or foul temper. Trust him to bring forth pain instead.

He entered his apartment and slammed his door behind him. What did it matter if his words had hurt the pretty boy? Aya probably would regret not uttering some scathing comment to Yohji later that night, and would be nasty as all hell to him the next time they met. Maybe he’d go running to Ayumi and cry to her about how mean Yohji’d been to him. Well too bad, Yohji was mean to anyone who gave him crap and didn’t pay his bills.

He hadn’t always been like this, he thought suddenly. He hadn’t always been so shallow and money obsessed and concerned about only for his own good. The old Yohji wouldn’t have hurt someone like that, unintentionally or not, a familiar voice said in his mind.

"Yeah, but the old Yohji is dead, just like you, Asuka. So leave me the hell alone," he muttered. He felt a strong need for a drink, and he hoped that Yayoi showed up soon. Some alcohol and meaningless sex would help him forget all about the old Yohji and the people he’d let down, at least for a little bit. And maybe it would convince Asuka’s voice that the man she’d once loved was dead and gone and to stop haunting his corpse.

*******

A/N: *sigh* I know, another fic w/ Hirofumi in it…. But it’s important to the plot that Aya’s lover/patron is a Takatori. I didn’t think Masafumi would be right, since he’s always seen w/ women, and several of them at that! Reiji… ick. Besides, that has been done before, and quite well. Mamoru… hell no. So, that left Hirofumi. Hopefully, a different Hirofumi than the one in Shadows.

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